Amazon Echo Review: Star Trek Computer in Your Home
Amazon Echo: Hello Alexa
The Amazon Echo is breakthrough voice control device that promises to make your life much, much easier.
- It's a Bluetooth cylindrical speaker with a voice assistant named "Alexa".
As soon as you plug the device in (with included external adapter), it starts up in less than a minute and welcomes you with a friendly "Hello" greeting.
- The Echo is activated with the default wake word Alexa, which can be changed to Amazon or Echo within the Alexa app.
The wake word has to be said before any command is given.
The main setup lies within the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device. From there you can set your location, link your Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Spotify Premium accounts, and set up other nifty features.
I've had the product since early September 2015, and I'll happily explain the best features and the disadvantages of the Echo.
Hopefully by the end of this review you'll have a good idea whether the Echo is useful enough to purchase or skip on your next Amazon shopping trip.
Amazon Echo: Top 10 Features
Top 10 Uses for Echo
I'll break down the best things about the Echo below and explain them afterwards.
Here are the 10 pros and greatest attractions of Amazon's featured software.
Durable 360° Bluetooth speaker
Multiple timer and alarm activation
Far-field voice recognition powered by seven internal microphones
Ability to hear across the room (up to 10 ft)
Integration with other smart home devices
Provides news, weather, and traffic (limited) updates
Gives you sports scores, updates, and schedules
To-do and shopping lists, track packages, and re-order past purchased Amazon items
Plays music from your Pandora, Prime Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Spotify Premium accounts
Listen to audio books from Audible and Alexa reads your Kindle books
Bonus: Fun Easter Eggs
Explore Echo's Best Features
The Best Attributes
As a 360° speaker it's sturdy and can fill a small room with great sound. I usually don't go beyond volume 7 (goes from 1-11) because the audio begins to get scratchy and diluted.
It can replace your alarm and kitchen timers as well as enhance multitasking capabilities. You can even ask Alexa how much time is left on the timer or cancel timers and alarms if necessary.
The voice recognition software is very good, and you don't have to speak slowly for Alexa to understand you. It has an audio range of 10-15 feet though it serves best as the focal point of your home (kitchen, living room).
You can integrate her with compatible smart home devices including Nest, WeMo, Wink, SmartThings, Insteon, and Philips Hue products for voice activated lighting, temperature control, and more.
You can turn on a specific light or multiple lights through group setup on the Alexa app.
The Echo can answer questions, tell you the weather, provide flash briefings (pre-recorded news updates), give traffic information, customized sports scores/updates, and add items on your to-do and shopping lists.
None of those features are mind-blowing, but it's nice to get quick updates without surfing channels or checking your phone.
Finally, you can play your favorite playlists and radio stations on linked music accounts, have it read your audio books from Audible or Kindle, and even re-order items previously purchased on Amazon from your Prime account.
And best of all, the Amazon Echo is family friendly!
- Amazon Echo - Control Connected Devices
Amazon Echo Echo can control devices such as lights and switches from Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, and Wink using your voice.
Amazon Echo: Top 5 Disadvantages
The Top 5 Complaints
This time I'll be breaking down the ugly parts of the Echo and explain them after.
Here are the unfortunate aspects of the Amazon Echo:
Lacks intelligence compared to other digital assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now)
Occasionally misreads your voice or questions asked
Not portable (beyond your home), doesn't have rechargeable battery
Durable but not high quality speaker
Technology still rather limited
Echo's Greatest Challenges
The Biggest Problems
The biggest problem is that the Echo's voice assistant Alexa is not as intelligent as other personal digital assistants including Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Now.
She can't answer difficult questions aside from quick Wikipedia entries and general knowledge questions provided through Bing.
You'll be hearing her say "Sorry" or "Hmm I don't know" a lot, and she may even ignore what you say entirely.
The other issue is that the device sometimes misreads what you say, so you'll have to repeat yourself (sometimes multiple times) before she understands.
Her voice recognition is pretty good, but it's not top notch yet.
On the app there's a setting for voice training, which is helpful for those with strong accents or dialects if there are miscommunication issues.
The Echo requires an adapter to work since it doesn't have a rechargeable battery or wireless charging. This greatly limits its portability.
As a speaker, she's pretty good and durable but doesn't compare to higher quality Bluetooth speaker such as the Sonos speakers. She's better suited for smaller homes or apartments when it comes to sound quality.
The technology remains limited although it's improving due to weekly software upgrades through the Cloud in Amazon's ecosystem.
There's a lot more that needs to evolve regarding what's possible, but be mindful that the device was released to the public in June 2015 so it's fairly new.
Smart Home Technology
How Useful Is It?
Now that I've broken down the pros and cons of the device, I'd like to address the elephant in the room.
- How useful is the Amazon Echo and is it worth buying?
Personally I enjoy purchasing gadgets because I love technology and find them fascinating, so I do think she's worth buying.
However, I would rate its usefulness a 6 on a scale from 1-10 without the additional smart home components and an 8 with them included.
- I highly recommend integrating the Echo with other smart devices because that's where the product's assets lie.
I've found that using her with my Hue lights and WeMo switches have been the most productive because of convenience..
She's definitely a cool looking product and does provide tidbits of useful information, but she's not advanced enough where you can't live without it.
This gadget has definitely started a trend though, and I guarantee her usefulness will improve gradually.
I would rate its usefulness a 6 on a scale from 1-10 without the additional smart home components and an 8 with them included.
Final Review of Amazon Echo ("Alexa")
Amazon Echo Rating
After weighing the pros and cons, I give the Amazon Echo 4 out of 5 stars.
Given the product is in its early stages (initial product launched November 2014), I'm already impressed with what Alexa can do. I didn't even mention things like Easter Eggs and the IFFT recipes it's capable of.
The Easter Eggs are fun phrases you can say (jokes, pop culture references) and IFFT recipes are things you can create on the IF app for Alexa.
For example, you can make her locate your phone or have her email/print your shopping list.
All those fun tools, the list of pros, and future updates make the Echo a fantastic product from Amazon.
Despite my cons, I'd definitely recommend this device if you're a tech lover/intrigued and don't mind the steep price because ultimately I think it's a blast.
Yes she may be a bit gimmicky but I'm a happily satisfied customer, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for the Amazon Echo.